By Mary Brophy-Moore
I find myself frustrated by the ballooning trend in the Adirondacks, including the Town of Webb, whereby local family homes in once stable neighborhoods are being bought up by out of towners looking to make a killing on short term rentals.
As a resident since 1986, I’ve watched the housing market move steadily upward in terms of new builds and values. In the early 2000’s, especially after 9-11, there was a strong uptick in neighborhood homes being bought by down-staters presumably to have a place to escape the cities and feel safe. That created “dark” spots in previously year-round neighborhoods. But locals at least knew who their neighbors were even if their presence was sporadic. A direct result of the demand was a significant increase in property values that led to the current housing crisis in which locals are unable to afford homes of their own and fewer quality long-term rental units are available.
The more recent trend is where homes are purchased primarily as rentals, whether to help pay the mortgage and taxes on a property used as an occasional second home or to use them purely as rental businesses. In the meantime, this exacerbates the near-impossible housing situation for locals who don’t already own a home even as the new non-local owners operate rental businesses virtually free of regulation or oversight of any kind.
The threats to our once-stable neighborhoods continue to escalate because of this trend. Many residents find themselves living near homes that have different people in them every week or weekend. There have been many reports of overcrowding and noisy renters. Of course, many renters are considerate of neighbors but may be staying in houses that are in substandard condition or too small for the number of people in them.
In addition to these conditions, local motel, hotel and cottage rental businesses are subject to regulations and fees that short-term-rental homeowners are not. This amounts to inequitable competition.
The short-term rental situation as it contributes to the lack of affordable long-term housing has stymied efforts to attract new families to the area. In fact, individuals and families are leaving the town in search of affordable properties.
In my opinion, the town needs to enact regulations designed to protect locals as well as to protect renters from life safety threats. They should also help mitigate the pressure on town services including water, sewer, trash collection and emergency services, as well as try to level the playing field for established hospitality businesses. There should be a permitting mechanism where those who rent mainly for profit and spend little or no time occupying the residence are subject to substantial fees including violation charges. When owners have little interest in the welfare of the community there needs to be real consequences. Others who are simply attempting to afford to keep their homes, especially those family-owned for multiple generations should be given dispensation from fees (except violations) but be subject to regular inspections and limits on numbers of renters. Our purely residential zones should have extra protection in the form of limits on rental terms such as no more than one renter group per week. Perhaps in addition to these regulations, given that too many once long-term rental units have been converted to short-term rentals, the town could give tax relief incentives to landlords who rent to local, long-term tenants.
Certainly, regulation is only one part of the solution to our housing situation but is necessary. Similar regulations are having success in other Adirondack communities especially where enforcement is adequate. Good, vigorous enforcement practices are key to making it all work.
Our town board has been working on these issues but seem stymied by the objections of some who are renting their properties. Neighborhood stability and visitor safety should be the top priorities of our leaders and action needs to be taken sooner rather than later.
— Mary Brophy-Moore lives in Thendara, NY
Photos at top, taken from around Old Forge show plenty of “for rent” signs but the vast majority are advertising short-term, vacation rentals. Photos by Jamie Organski